Not a Bridge too Far
Bangladesh is ahead than many other countries in the region in developing primary literacy. Recent initiatives could bring it much closer to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
Bangladesh faces multi-faceted complications in attaining literacy and raising primary education. Like other South Asian countries, poverty remains the primary cause of many problems faced by the Bangladeshi population. In 2000, one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) for Bangladesh was to have 100% primary literacy by the end of 2015.
The official MDG report valid till 2005, urged Bangladesh to focus on pupils from grade one to five. However, high dropout rates in primary schools have been the main deterrent in reaching the MDG goals.
Bangladesh earned worldwide acclaim in the 1990s for raising education awareness and enrollment of kids in school. But the dropout rates increased form 33% to 47 % in 2007. Also, according to official statistics, the net enrollment of children from six to ten fell from 97% to 93% in 2002. Moreover, the quality of primary education was such that even after five years of study, kids could not read or write their own names. The World Bank predicted that at this rate Bangladesh could not meet the MDG by 2015.
Progress on the Millennium Development Goal does appear to be making headway and primary dropout rates have gone down considerably. The government of Bangladesh introduced new methodologies like the primary education stipend program and reduced the student-to-teacher ratio to help accelerate the achievement of these goals. Free Budgetary Allocation for Girls’ Education, Free Primary Education, big stipend programs at primary level and Food for Education Programme - are all efforts of the government that is doing what it can to meet the requirements of full primary literacy in the country.
The government claimed 82.7% enrollment in 2005, while it was 80.9% in 2003, according to UNICEF. Also, percentage of enrollment of females was comparatively higher than males: 83 to 84 for girls and 80 to 81 for boys.
Initiatives like Amader Pathsala have further bolstered the government’s attempts to reach the MDG. Schools under this program provide education to destitute children according to their economic and cultural settings. Lessons are prepared with relevance to the students’ own lives and they are encouraged to participate. In addition to various traditional and cultural activities, the school also provides the kids with a daily lunch box to meet their nutritional needs.
Although the Bangladeshi government is trying hard, the journey is long and uphill. Poverty is only one face of the issue that has kept so many kids out of school. There is also a need for schools to be accessible, cheap and noncommercial and they should also cater to marginalized communities of the country. It is hard for children to study and learn something which has no relevance to their own lives. If the model of Amader Pathsala schools is introduced by the government, their success level could be much higher.
Consideration of so many key issues is very difficult on a broad scale, but for primary education to be effective, these factors have to be taken into account. The teacher-to-student ratio should be low and they should be experienced in handling children’s issues.
The schools don’t have to be large and well equipped. They can be set up in small shacks and buildings as long as there is one in almost every village and there are children to attend it. If the schools are accessible and blend in with the local culture, they would be more effective in attracting more local children.
The UNESCO World Monitoring Report in 2008 put Bangladesh in the list of 25 countries that are still far from attaining the MDG goals. These countries also include India, Nepal, Morocco, Mauritania, and Pakistan but BD is still far ahead than any of these countries. If the current rate of progress continues, there is no doubt that Bangladesh would meet the Millennium Development Goal of 100 percent primary literacy rate - perhaps not exactly in 2015, but better late than never! The writer is a freelancer who writes on developmental issues of the region.